As a fun way of relieving stress, burning hundreds of calories and improving coordination, fitness, strength and focus, it’s no wonder squash is renowned as a sport bursting with health benefits.
Now, thanks to Kanzy El Dafrawy, once ranked as the 22nd best squash player in the world, the pastime has gathered a new legion of enthusiastic fans in Dubai. Born in Egypt, Kanzy earned her nickname “The Flying DAF” due to the way she energetically leaps around the court, and earlier this year she opened her own state-of-the-art squash center in Jumeirah Mina A’Salam.
The Flying DAF is the first squash club in Dubai to offer coaching from qualified instructors with more than 10 years’ experience each, elite programs, group and private classes and regular tournaments for all ages and abilities.
Since opening earlier this year, it has attracted more than 250 regular clients and Kanzy’s eventual goal is to build a national team.
“Squash just combines so many skills and has so many benefits,” says the 27-year-old. “Not only does it improve your flexibility, agility, strength, power, speed, endurance and cardiovascular health, but studies have shown it can actually prolong your life.
“Because it’s so fast and you’re constantly stopping and starting, it’s like a natural form of HIIT,” a reference to High Intensity Interval Training. She continues that “it’s an amazing workout that burns an average of 600 calories an hour. Yet because you’re so focused on beating your opponent, it doesn’t really feel like exercise.”
She went on to say that “you have to concentrate all the time and this really sharpens your mind and encourages you to think more strategically. A lot of companies come to us for team-building days for this very reason.”
As well as providing a new challenge and hobby, many people use it as a constructive way to release anger or tension.
“If you’ve had a bad day or if you’re having problems in your professional or personal life, squash will turn all your negative energy into positive. By the end you’ll have forgotten all about the things that were playing on your mind,” says Kanzy.
Consistency is key
Kanzy admits that it isn’t the easiest game. Despite playing regularly since she was seven and turning pro at age 12, she still needs to stay consistent with her training.
“You have to keep playing regularly if you want to improve. You can’t just play once and then come back again in three months because you’ll have forgotten everything,” she notes.
“You won’t score a single point unless you’re totally determined to win. If you want to get better, then you have to push yourself beyond your limits and be prepared to work hard. When I was playing professionally, I used to hit the ball for an hour and a half in the same spot, without stopping. It requires a huge amount of patience to get really, really good.”
Yet for some, the difficult aspect is part of what makes it so addictive and exhilarating.
Regular matchplay tournaments allow academy members to have a taste of competitive squash, and experience the priceless satisfaction of winning.
“When you win a match at any level, it’s such an amazing feeling. It makes you feel confident and empowered and I’ve seen squash really help people who struggled with low self-esteem,” she says.
Perfect for the UAE climate
Perhaps most importantly for us in the UAE, squash is an indoor sport. While facilities for some sports, like tennis, generally close during the searingly hot summers, squash has a big advantage in the fact it can be played all year round. It also requires very little equipment; players just need to bring a racket, ball and wide-soled shoes.
“Whatever your fitness level, you’re welcome to join. Most of our clients hadn’t ever played before and now they say they feel fitter and more healthy than ever. I used to play lots of other sports but I truly believe squash is the best and most life-changing,” she says.
Harriet Shephard is an Abu Dhabi-based copywriter and freelance journalist with a particular focus on fitness, travel and lifestyle, which, along with good food, also happen to be her main passions when she's not typing away at her laptop.